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Requiescat in Pace, Frank Barbaro

Frank Barbaro at 2010 Truman Awards Dinner – Photo (c) TheLiberalOC

Former DPOC chair Frank Barbaro has died.

Barbaro has battled pancreatic cancer for the past few years.  He kept the party going through the toughest of times, often funding it through his personal resources.  Rep. Mike Levin honored Barbaro on the floor of the House earlier this month; Levin served as the party’s executive director under Barbaro more than 10 years ago.

Rest in Power Frank.  We mourn your loss.

Here’s some of the comments from OC Democrats:

Rep. Mike Levin (CA-49) —Yesterday, Chrissy and I had a chance to say goodbye to our dear friend Frank Barbaro, who was a leader in Orange County politics for decades. This past Monday, I was able to enter his life story into the Congressional Record. Please say a prayer for Frank’s amazing family.

Former Irvine Mayor Beth Krom — Farewell to my longtime friend, supporter and political ally Frank Barbaro, former Chair of the OC Democratic Party. Frank was one of those larger than life figures. I’m glad he lived to see the “blue wave,” which included the election of now Congressman Mike Levin who served as Executive Director of the DPOC under Frank’s leadership and tutelage. He played an important role in building the foundation upon which our current success has been built.

I hope the DPOC will consider creating the Frank Barbaro Emerging Leaders Award. He saw potential in people, empowered them and gave them the opportunity to build and use their political skills. I’m thinking of Melahat Rafiei, Nick Anas and so many more. Frank is part of Orange County’s history. He will be missed

Former Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang — Deepest condolences to Frank’s family. Rest In Peace, Frank. You were a great man!!

Melahat Rafiei, DNC — (this is a post on

Dedicated to my friend and mentor, Frank P. Barbaro, who served as Chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC) for eight years in the 1970’s and early 1980’s as well as from 2000- 2012.

Among the big news stories of the 2018 was that “Blue was the new Orange” — Orange County, CA, for many people the epitome of a safe Republican area, was now going to be represented in Congress entirely by Democrats. Much of the news coverage reflected astonishment that such red soil had produced a thriving blue garden.

But within that red soil were many blue seeds that had not only been planted, but carefully nurtured over decades. This was no blue “miracle”, but the culmination of the hard work, by many people over time. Among the “head gardeners” were people like Frank Barbaro (longest serving Chair of the DPOC), who showed us real leadership that saw new activists as the seedlings for future growth and strength, not simply threats to established power. Frank looked at everyone as a potential asset to building an effective, positive DPOC that had room for everyone and a chance to have their skills “blossom”. His work ethic and real affection for people set the standard and the tone — he might work you to the limit, but he’d make you laugh, and, something too rare in the political world, he’d see to it that you got the credit you deserved.

Some consider that this red to blue change began 25 years ago — when California’s Republicans rallied behind Governor Pete Wilson and Proposition 187. That ballot referendum echoes in today’s Republican party. Its aim was to deny undocumented individuals the right to use any government services including hospital emergency rooms and public schools. Although it passed and was ruled unconstitutional, it energized a budding interest in activism on the left in Orange County.

The seeds were planted, now they needed tending. In 1996, Loretta Sanchez led a remarkable upset victory to become the first Democratic Congressional representative from Orange County by beating “B-1 Bob” Dornan, a deeply conservative Republican known for virulent anti-semitic and anti-immigrant views. She was later joined by her sister Linda Sanchez, also a Democrat, and they made history as the first two sisters elected to Congress. It was now clear that Democrats could flower in this Republican territory.

The next visible step was in 2004, during the rise of the innovative Howard Dean campaign. A fresh wave of activists, many new to politics, took the helm in Orange County to form grassroots-generated clubs that are still active today, buzzing with hundreds of members who meet each month to discuss how to be effective activists and best address local and national issues.

One of those new activists was me, an Iranian-American woman, another reflection of the growing diversity that was becoming increasingly visible in Orange County. When I started as Executive Director of the Democratic Party in 2007, we registered 75,000 new Democratic voters in a year with a combined strength of our veteran leaders and an army of new activists passionate for Barack Obama’s historic race for President. Our “garden” was growing now, and thriving with the careful nurturing of many dedicated workers. And one of the first people who welcomed me and made a real effort to help me get the best start in the DPOC was Frank Barbero.

Frank showed the kind of leadership that didn’t just seek center stage for himself, he put in the blood, sweat and just plain hard work that it took to take a Party that barely had a pulse and set it on the road to strength and success. Even after losing a close race for State Senate to Ed Royce in 1982, Frank used his considerable skills to bring real star power to Orange County, and laying a foundation of credibility, starting with his own reputation, that still underpins much of what we do.

In his first term as DPOC Chair (beginning in 1977), 34 year old Frank organized a voter registration drive that showed Orange County could, and did, turn blue. It took the time, hard work and sheer force of will that Frank brought to every part of his life. That energy still motivates in his beloved OC.

The 2016–2018 election cycle was helmed by Chair Fran Sdao who began her work years prior as leader of an influential political action committee that raised half a million dollars to flip a school board in a wealthy south Orange County enclave.

Orange County’s remarkable victories in 2018 were once again because of the cumulative impact of the leaders who built our party to the strength it had reached, and the continuing cultivation of an army of new grassroots organizers passionate about fair representation and common sense solutions in Congress. We’re already seeing the difference it makes to have a Katie Porter instead of a Mimi Walters asking the questions of CEOs.

These touchstones in our history, each one a feat in itself, allowed Democratic leaders to pass the torch between veterans and activists, and build young leaders who would eventually become the veterans who would pass that torch again. New stock and old combine for healthy growth.

Orange County’s Democratic success story has been built on a culture that respects the history of our leadership while also encouraging the energy of our future. This ethos — passing our torches, collaborating, and sharing mutual respect — shows every sign of remaining to take us into our future. It created the largest wave of the 2018 midterms, and could flourish widely, if modeled on a national scale for 2020.

From his days as a USC student, who also worked as Walt Disney’s favorite Jungle Boat Cruise Skipper (his passengers included John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger!) to his time as DPOC Elder Statesman, Frank Barbaro always gave his best to try to make a better world for everyone. We’ve lost a giant, and I’ve lost a friend and mentor. But what his work and passion will always be the bedrock that supports our “blue garden”.

Claudio Gallegos, an Aide to Congressman Lou Correa — I had the honor of knowing Frank Barbaro for much of his 2nd tenure as DPOC chair. The man planted the seeds that made this Blue Wave possible. He brought back a professional full time staff to the DPOC after many years as an all volunteer staff, invested heavily in GOTV efforts and raised as well as donating a lot of his own money to make sure the Democratic Party of Orange County could truly reach its potential. I did not always saw eye to eye with Frank, but that was another special quality about him. You could disagree with him and he respected your opinion and did not let petty differences ruin friendships. I am so glad he was able to see the fruit of all his work with all those wins in 2018. Rest in peace and power Frank Barbaro. You earned your rest.

Jordan Brandman, Anaheim City Council Member — Frank Barbaro was my friend, mentor, defender, and attorney. My gratitude for being able to know him is without bounds. The world is a better place because Frank graced it. Thank you, Mr. Chairman!

Ada Briceno, DPOC Chair — “Frank Barbaro was instrumental in building the Democratic party in Orange County. It’s because of people like Frank over the past few decades that the party is strong today. His commitment to Democratic values and fighting for what we believe is inspiring and I’m grateful for his long service to the party — he will be missed.”